Over a year ago, I did an experiment of sorts in my kitchen. Using the local Co-op weekly sales flyer, I chose food items up to $10 per day to see if a family of two could feed itself well on that amount.
The problem I have found is that eating “well” is a subjective term. Some people think that eating well means eating at restaurants or buying as much convenience food as they want. OR it could mean a certain quality or price of food.
All this is just avoiding learning how to eat well for less. It can be done.
To remind ourselves from the last post: The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:
Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.
From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments such as ketchup or left over from previous purchases of food you could use those to spruce things up.
At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project.
The point is use what is available.
The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.
Day 2: Carrots, Banana, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00
With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelievably good.
So now you have pasta and soup with some fruit.
We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However, the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower. Eating this canned food is NOT what I would call eating well.
I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well.
The key to eating this way is to learn how to cook. It’s as simple as that, or as difficult.
Cooking for oneself takes time and effort, just like anything else worthwhile. Our society has moved away from that. The focus is on ready made, packaged foods. You get addicted to these and the convenience of them. They are part of the disconnect between how people work and how people live. They are easy and simple – and not nourishing.
I am not saying this to point the finger of blame at anyone or of how people live, just a statement of fact. My goal is to educate people to see that it is not as difficult as they might believe and to encourage a bit more food security into their lives – learning how to prepare their own food. That is the whole point of this blog.
Many people go to jobs daily that suck the life out of them. They are then exhausted and don’t have the energy to prepare good food for themselves. There is a different way.
This happened to Ernie during his working life in the big city. Work was from 7 am to 3 pm. Luckily his commute was only about 20 mins each way, but at the end of the work day he would go home and sleep for an hour before eating a meal or two hours after the meal. When he changed his life from working at this job, his food selections changed as well.
Working at something you don’t feel good about or are not connected with depletes your energy just like eating crappy food. I know, I’ve done both.
If you feel defensive when reading this post you may not be secure in your food or other choices. Please don’t post a negative comment. The intention is not to try and insult you (I am not that much in control of your thinking anyway ;-).
There are people who need help and it is to those people that this post is directed. Thanks you.
I will continue this experiment as planned and post the results here shortly – with a few modifications. Day 3 and 4 will be posted on soon.
Several years ago, we had an almost complete garlic crop failure. At the time, we had been selling some and building up the seed so we could have even more to sell. This also happened to many other people including local garlic growers and organic vegetable farmers, although they were not almost wiped out as we were.
All that disappeared in one winter. The cause: very little snow cover.
Not only did the garlic suffer but most of the plants that usually seed themselves also did not come back. We usually had volunteer spinach – a lot of it – and it all died out. Even the dill and cilantro was reduced in numbers.
But the most severe effect was on the garlic.
Now we have a nice patch growing but there will be little if any for sale. Last year we did have some that we made garlic powder from in our homemade dehydrator. That can go a long way but you always need fresh garlic. What extra we will have is already sold to the first people who asked in the spring this year.
If they miss out, it will be first come first serve.
Most of this year’s crop will go to seed for next year.
I was also able to find some of the small garlic “seeds” among the cloves which I planted in a herb bed. They’re doing amazing and should give us some second year bulbs. There are about 20 or so plants. I had TWO second year garlic bulb which I put in another herb bed and both came up.
This is the first time I have followed our garden plants this closely, so I should be able to keep track a bit better what we have.
The most important thing when planting garlic for yourself (which I encourage EVERYONE to do) is buy good seed and plant in the fall. Many people have called us over the years to ask why their garlic didn’t amount to anything. There are two reasons.
ONE: They are buying garlic from the grocery store to use for seed.
Garlic from the store may be treated with something to prevent germination. If it is not, it is still not appropriate to plant because it is not acclimatized to where you are planting.
TWO: They’re planting the seed in the spring.
This does not give the garlic enough time to come up and produce really good heads. They need that early start, especially in continental climates that have cold winters.
So aside from all the garlic troubles of the past, the garlic that we have is doing well and we are on the way to our goal of restocking our seed garlic and having enough to sell.
We were able to harvest and sell some of the garlic scapes from these plants, which were very nice, and I put the rest of them away for ourselves for the winter. I use them in soups, stews and sauces, omelettes. Just about anything really.
This August we will purchase new seed of a variety that is known to the seller. When I purchased the seed for what we have now, I neglected to ask what the name was, so it is just large purple garlic.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have absolutely NO garlic at all for a year. I don’t and won’t buy from the store unless I know it it local, so hopefully this problem won’t happen again.
Garlic is our most important garden plant.
Our greenhouse is finished. Well, except for painting the trim. The plants that have been in there so far this summer are growing somewhat faster than those outside, but I feel this is likely due to transplant shock of those that were put out.
As I have said before this greenhouse was built with mostly scrap/recycled/savaged materials with the exception of a few pieces of wood and the roof plastic. Even the vinyl siding was salvaged from the dump.
It is functional, not bad looking and seems to be working well.
As for the plants that are growing inside, they are also doing quite well. We have tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in there as well as outside on the patio.
This is all really an experiment for me. I wanted to try to grow vegetables in pots, in and outside of the greenhouse, to see if and how easily it could be done here in our climate.
What I have found is that it is easy to grow your own food in pots on balconies or outside on your patio. The easiest things I have found to grow are herbs, onions, obviously tomatoes, peppers, kale… well everything really.
I even have corn growing in two pots just to see if it would work. And yes it works.
Recently, several people have complained to me about the increased prices at the grocery store, particularly vegetables. Of the people who complained to me, some lived in the city and some lived in rural areas.
I can understand that there will be certain places in urban areas in which it will be difficult to have any kind of outdoor space for plants. But everyone has an indoor place for one plant.
So there is really no excuse not to do this except that you are completely set against doing it.
Why should I grow my own food? Isn’t it time consuming?
My answer to this is, no. But it IS a lifestyle. My opinion ( if it matters) is that everyone should learn how to grow SOMETHING of their own, even if it is just flowers or houseplants. I believe tending to garden, even a small one, is an important part of being human. But you don’t have to start out growing everything at once. And of course if you don’t want to that is your choice. Just don’t complain to me about the price of food.
When you learn how to grow even the most simple and small amounts of food for yourself, you are connecting to nature, you can control where some of your food comes from and you learn something new every time you plant something. This last point is the most important one of the three in my mind.
What to grow
Growing your own herbs is the best way I have found to start growing food. You can grow all of the oregano, basil, coriander, parsley and dill you need for a whole year in pots in a small space. Parsley can grow inside all winter in a sunny window, and early in the year you can start coriander (cilantro), dill and even small onions in pots to pinch for fresh flavour in your cooking.
Multiplier onions can provide green onions before they mature AND just the greens if you want. If you leave them to mature, the bulbs can be saved and planted at another time. There is really no way to make a mistake in planting them.
Other really useful plants to plant in pots are tomatoes and peppers. They take a little more attention, especially pruning for the tomatoes but nothing that can’t be handled.
Tomatoes never have to go bad because if you grow too many because you can freeze them whole and use them anytime during the non-growing season.
Anyway, I’m not getting rid of my greenhouse just because I don’t need it. I love it and will use it to start the large amount of veggies we need each year.
But it is time for people to take matters into their own hands and start growing some of their own food if only just to eat something amazing.
We have two oregano beds that survived the winter. This plant is interesting because it is obviously not native to this region, yet is survives our ridiculously difficult winters. There is always some die-back and some sections of the beds don’t come back, but they always spread.
Both of our oregano beds have a north facing exposure so this is even more interesting to me. Because this herb is so useful, it is a good idea for everyone to plant a little and dry some for use in the off season.
This year I am planting more because of our venture into market gardening. The old beds needed refreshing so I harvested as much as I could very early. The stems were very short but I pinched them down to the ground.
The second bed has even more to be harvested which has yet to be done. All of this will be dried for our own use. The first batch I dried on an old cookie sheet but the second harvest will be dried in our homemade dehydrator.
The remaining beds will be removed, some good sections will be replanted in different locations, and the dead sections composted. The roots on these plants are VERY tough and difficult for me to even get a shovel into. This must be why they are so good at surviving the winters here.
I use oregano in many different things that we eat like the obvious – pizza, tomato sauce, salsa, salad, etc. but I also put some in my dog’s food – dried of fresh – from time to time.
Some people believe that giving greens to dogs is a not species appropriate but I don’t think that at all. In small amounts this and other culinary herbs are a benefit to dogs. I have been using them for years with no issues. Dogs that are not used to things like this should be started on them slowly using COMMON SENSE.
So I harvested quite a bit of early oregano for drying and now that is something I don’t have to think about for the rest of the summer. We have as much as we need for ourselves so I can concentrate on selling the rest.
Our main focus on the village homestead is to reduce consumption of stuff we don’t need. That doesn’t include what we eat though.
We are actually increasing the amount of vegetables, including herbs that we grow ourselves. This means we need more containers for planting, growing medium and trays to put the containers in. We also need more space.
This year we decided it was time to have a greenhouse to support these plants. Since finally starting a business dealing with herbs and garlic, I felt it was now unavoidable to build one.
Ernie drew up a couple of plans and looked in a few books and we designed a greenhouse based on where it will be situated and the materials we had. We wanted to use as much of what we already had as possible.
Using What We Have
Over the years, Ernie has saved old windows that were replaced on the house, all kinds of wood, pieces of siding, nails and screws, and many other things that might come in handy for building. The only things that we were missing for this project were the concrete for the footing (which we didn’t really need), the roofing, which will be purchased fibreglass panels and some miscellaneous pieces of wood like some studs and a piece of plywood.
The door is even the old front door from the house. Nothing goes to waste.
We chose a slanted roof because it would be more efficient for collecting water. The tall side is north facing and has the door but no windows. There will be enough light from the other three sides. Rain water will be collected on the one side or go into the raspberries in the ground around the greenhouse. Water will not collect on the north side where we will be entering.
My plan is to grow certain plants in the greenhouse all summer. These will be the tomatoes that I want to save seeds from in particular (heirloom), and some herbs that need the heat.
Since the building is not completed yet, I will be posting again on the progress and then on how I am filling it up with plants. Ernie figures it should be done over the weekend.
Since we got back from our “vacation” we have drastically reduced our spending. This is part of how I have always wanted to live anyway so it is not much of a problem.
I think I have explained in past blog posts that we prefer to spend money on things that are important to us and not just willy nilly on everything for a quick fix. This is very easy to do sometimes, and is mostly just a bad habit.
In case you haven’t already guessed, M also stands for money, in this post anyway.
One of those things we buy for a quick fix is eating restaurant meals. When we make a regular trip to the city for supplies in the past we have purchased a meal there. This was done completely for convenience since we would be there at the same time as we would normally have lunch or supper.
Just for fun, or to torture ourselves, I have calculated the amount of money we have spent over one year on fast food when we were away from home. I was able to do that because Ernie keeps a daily journal of what we do, eat, etc. and has done so for three years.
We averaged $80 a month.
Some places are more expensive than others but in general a meal for two people is pretty much $20 – $25 each time. If we had a take out meal at home (purchased in our village) that would be added on as well. I did not include convenience foods that were included in a grocery purchase simply because I did not have that info.
This amount and habit is unacceptable to me, so we stopped buying food in restaurants and any extra convenience food items. Now, some people WANT to buy meals out, and reap great benefits from that (this is different for everyone), which is fine. However, for us it is not that important to do on a regular basis. It has always been my belief that (unless you are independently wealthy) you can’t buy everything you see. You have to weight how much benefit you get for something over how much it “costs” you.
Actually, even if someone has lot of money to spend, it could be considered irresponsible to buy a bunch of things just for the sake of buying, convenience, or just because one can. Purchases that are well thought out (to me) are much more satisfying and useful. And less impactful on our earth.
I feel life is more about experiences than buying things, and I’m sure many of you reading this feel the same way as well. Sure, if you want to experience travelling to different countries you’ll need money, or to experience staying at a first class resort.
The way I like to look at it is these things are worthwhile if they are meaningful experiences. If they are, then great. But if they are just for relaxing and pleasure because you work too hard, or if they are for bragging about, then they are likely not meaningful experiences.
So back to the original point of this post.
We stopped spending money on food in restaurants because it is more meaningful to us to eat our own food that we prepared at home.
There may be an occasion for buying a meal at a restaurant at some point, but for us the regular habit of it is gone. We will take the time to make food at home before we go anywhere, and then save the money for a more meaningful experience later on.
I admit it takes more planning and a bit of organization to get it done, not to mention the time. For me though, time spent making and growing our own food is one of the reasons I am a homesteader, so again it is not an issue.
Getting out of the habit of buying what you think of will immediately “solve your problem” is the most difficult part. It requires desire to change and live differently. It was something that we felt we had to do. Again, not everyone will feel this way about spending money on meals, but there may be something else. What is a meaningful experience for you that you spend money on?
We don’t make sauerkraut every year but this year we had to because of all the cabbages that decided to grow.
For this process we have a ceramic crock that Ernie’s mom used. It is a large high – sided pot really, that was made in Medicine Hat Alberta, Canada. Ernie’s parents were given this crock in 1967 by neighbours but we really don’t know how old it is.
For things like that I just call them “vintage”.
This year we used 18 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. We also used some of our own onions and of course, coarse salt.
Sauerkraut is so simple. And so tasty. And good for you. So we have decided to make more of an effort to use what we make. Often we forget that we have it, and it gets left over from year to year. This year though I think we have run out so our crock full will definitely get eaten.
Many of you already make this food but I will go over it again anyway because you can do it with almost any container, just on you counter.
Chop or coarsely grate (we grate) the cabbage into the container to about 2 inches or 5 centimetres. Add some onion and the appropriate amount of pickling salt. For us it was 2 tablespoons per layer of cabbage.
Then we filled the container about 3/4 full. As he went along, Ernie would squish the cabbage in his hands to get the juices out.
Once done filling the crock a clean pail full of water was used to weigh down the cabbage to stay underneath the liquid. Ernie cut two pieces of pine board to fit on top of the cabbage inside the crock that the pail sits on.
Check out my video below to see all the steps.
In the past, Ernie’s mom used to use a board similar to what we use, only she weighed it down with a big rock that they had found here in the yard. I opted for the pail although I’m sure there are many things that could be used to do this job.
Ernie kept tasting the cabbage to check it for sourness over the next two weeks or so. Once it reached what he figured was ready, he squeezed the liquid out by hand and packaged it for freezing.
Not difficult to do at all, and so very good for you.
Since our homestead is in a village, we have a restricted amount of space that we homestead on. Obviously it is going to be smaller than most. We have in total about one and 1/4 acres.
Normally one would think that you can’t do much on a small property and I used to believe that too. We have found though, that anything you want can be grown or produced even on a small homestead. It is similar to what the amazing things you can do with a can of paint for redecorating or how you can live in a tiny house, which we know that many people do.
Below are the things I have come up with that work for us the best when trying produce food on a small homestead.
We make use of all the space we have. This one is clearly the most important and actually includes most of the ones below. This space includes everything. Cupboard space, yard space, garden space, and any storage space. I guess we could always do better but for the most part, we get creative about storing things.
We don’t buy something if we can make it or do without. Buying things takes storage space. We don’t have storage space. It really is the same as living in a tiny house. You just don’t have room for the extra stuff.
An example of things like this are machines of all kinds. We bought a new riding lawnmower out of necessity and definitely had to have a place to park it indoors. The only shed that it will fit in is off the ground about a foot, so Ernie had to make a ramp – out of scrap wood of course – to drive it into the shed. So now the shed is mostly taken up with this lawn mower and to put up another shed will take space away from the garden so there is basically no more room for any new machinery. Luckily we don’t need a tractor, yet. Anyway I think you get the idea. We have no room for boats, cars, or fun toys etc. We do without those.
We only plant what we know we will eat. This way food will not go to waste and the space won’t be taken up by something we don’t need and put to good use growing what we do need.
We grow some of our vegetables upwards. Cucumbers and peas are planted on vertical fencing or lines to have them grow upwards. We also are fussy about pinching the tomatoes – taking the sprouts out of the branches so that the plants grow more upwards and don’t sprawl all over the place. This all saves space in the garden.
We make changes if something doesn’t work out the way we thought it would. If we do have something on the homestead that we thought we would like or might be useful but it turned out not being needed or not working out, we change it as soon as possible.
For example, we bought a gooseberry bush several years ago and put it in the back yard. Unfortunately, the dogs were also in the back yard often and would run into it regularly. Luckily no one was injured as they have thick coats. They would also EAT the berries before we had a chance to pick them. So we moved the bush to a totally different location and now it is growing well and producing so that we can use the berries.
So, producing big on a small homestead is mostly about creative use of space. If we had livestock, we would still be able to house them and feed them with what we have now. We would just keep it to the scale that is appropriate for the size of the property. I have said it before that homesteaders are pros at adapting to new environments. I also believe we are pros are being creative with what we have.